a tale of two disneys, part 1

I think it was on Sunday nights, and I think it was on around 8ish. I know it was one of the few TV shows we watched as a family. Dad watched the news, mostly; Mom watched things like Dallas. As kids, we cared little about anything that wasn’t Transformers(1), even my little sister. There wasn’t a great amount of common ground in our viewing habits, though sometimes my dad and I would watch old episodes of The Twilight Zone.

But we all tuned in for the Disney Sunday Movie.

Years later, what stayed with me wasn’t any of the movies in particular. In fact, I can’t remember a single thing I saw on that show. Except for Michael Eisner, who introduced each movie every week. When I later learned that this guy, who seemed so honest and inviting and pleasant and family oriented, was the Chief Executive Officer of Disney, I was quite surprised. My vision of the man, and therefore the company, was informed by my perhaps errant supposition that if the CEO of the company took the time to introduce the Sunday movie every week, the company must really care about family entertainment.

A few years later, this supposition was reinforced when Disney brought their flagship animation studio back into prominence with three really awesome flicks: The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These remain my favorite three non-Pixar Disney flicks of all-time. Hell, I saw Aladdin eleven times in the theater. That’s more than the number of times I watched The Matrix and The Phantom Menace combined.

And their TV shows were quality: Duck Tales; Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers; Darkwing Duck; Gargoyles. Shit, I watched these way into my 20s.

So, heading into the mid-nineties, my vision of Disney was that of a family oriented company that made quality entertainment.

As time wore on and as Disney acquired more and more of the media market, as they developed The Disney Channel, as they took on ABC and ESPN, as they acquired Carnival Cruise line and expanded their theme parks around the globe, I became skeptical.

This family oriented corporation seemed to be out to own everything it could. It seemed to want power for its own sake. The quality of its entertainment tanked, with the notable exception of a small digital studio called Pixar, and everything released under the Disney aegis seemed plastic, canned, prepared and stale.

I grew away from it. I decided Disney wasn’t what it once was, that despite the brilliance of the artist who founded the company, it had grown away from genius in favor of the predictable, the repeatable, and the bottom line. It didn’t matter to me that Mr. Eisner, who most agree was the Dementor to the Disney soul(2), was forced out in 2005. It would take a long time for Disney to bounce back from him money-hungry ways.

This is the view I held back in October when Ashley first asked, with the kind of gleam in her eye that doesn’t allow for negation, if I’d be up for spending a week in DisneyWorld.

I agreed, but much in the same way that a kid agrees to let his old man tie one end of a string to his loose molar and the other end to the doorknob of an opened door…


  1. Transformers is a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc., a publicly traded company founded in 1923 with headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
  2. If I may be allowed to mix my pop-culture/child-entertainment metaphor.
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